THE BEST IN THE BIZ • February 2022
The first women’s coach to receive World Rugby Coach of the Year, Simon Middleton is the perfect person to teach us a few things about winning. With the Guinness Six Nations around the corner and a postponed World Cup to look forward to in November, we sit down with the man himself to find out his rules for success
Work on a principle of just trying to be better – that’s what we do every time we play and every time we train. We’ve got a group of players who are super focused on just being the best they can be and that thirst for development is fantastic. As a rule, you should always anchor yourself to your values, and growth is a massive value for us. It’s not about the final scoreboard – it’s about beating your own best. That’s where the growth comes from. Better is always possible.
Because the whole professional side of the women’s game is fairly new, the opportunity to simply be a professional rugby player is still a great incentive to the players and a fantastic motivation. There’s also unbelievable competition for places, and competition for places is a pretty good place to start when it comes to keeping people motivated. Make your club, whatever form that may take, be somewhere people want to be, and they’ll work to stay.
Let the world catch up
When I started back in 2014, two snippets of coverage were about as good as it got. Even when we won the World Cup, we probably held the headlines for a day, and then it was back to the men’s side of the sport. Whereas now, you go on the BBC Sport website, and there’s five, six, seven pieces every day and a lot of the time the women’s sport is dominating the headlines. You just focus on putting in the work, and let the appreciation follow.
Work harder than the rest
I come from a Yorkshire family where hard work was a prerequisite. I learned the value of this at a very early age and I think that if you want to coach at the highest level you have to be prepared to put the work in. I think that’s true of any business. If you want to carve out a notable career and scale the heights as far as you can, there will be a few things you’ll need to sacrifice to be able to put that level of time and energy into what you’re doing.
Head of the table: Simon is named World Rugby Coach of the Year
I have a 95 per cent rule, which basically says that 95 per cent of whatever happens to you in your life is going to either be a direct or indirect result of something you yourself have done, so always make sure to have a look at yourself first. Introspection, and putting aside ego to do it, is key. If things are going well, great. If things are not going well, chances are you’re probably going to be the one responsible – so analyse objectively and fix your mistake.
Envision the win
In 2017, we played a curtain-raiser for the British and Irish Lions at the Rotorua International Stadium in New Zealand and ended up beating New Zealand on home soil for the first time since 2001. We finished that International Women’s Rugby Series unbeaten. But it wasn’t just the result – it was the way we played. I built a game plan, had a perfect picture in my mind about how I wanted us to play and it was executed fantastically. That’s a special memory.
Covid-19 has been by far our biggest hurdle to endure. We’ve had to rebuild our programmes to ensure a safe environment and it took a lot of time and effort. The work that the medical teams did was incredible. But we always talk about finding the positives, and the whole thing has made us incredibly resilient and very adaptable. Now, there’s no challenge that we would fear because we know we can find a way through. That’s invaluable knowledge.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
You’ve got to enjoy what you do. We have ultra-professional people who are fantastic at what they do, player wise and staff wise, but most of all we know how to have a laugh and how to take the mickey out of each other. You need that because there’s so much pressure in high-performance sport that you have to be able to find that on-off button and sometimes just focus on enjoying each other’s company.
The importance of winding down
If we’re on a five-day turnaround to a game, one of those days will be an off day, so the women can go off, socialise and just get away from rugby completely. The autumn internationals were the best part of a month, and we could only really see one opportunity to be able to send them home. It was just for one night, but the difference it made was absolutely massive.
Celebrate the wins (and the losses)
As we came towards the end of the autumn internationals, we wanted to have an end of campaign celebration, because it’s really important you celebrate your wins, your losses and just being together. The team are all Harry Potter mad, so we had the biggest Harry Potter party you’ve ever seen. They literally took over a hotel meeting room and turned it into the Great Hall. It was incredible!
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